Effective Packaging Design: The Importance of Managing a Brand’s Visual Equity (what Danone’s Dumex Brand did Wrong!)

How Packaging Design Mistakes can cost a Brand Dearly

“Danone exiting Vietnam due to dismal Dumex sales”. A small headline in the business section of a local Asian newspaper that goes by unnoticed, but for those following the Dumex brand more closely, an unfortunate ending to what once was a blooming business and a flagship brand for Danone in Asia. After having sold its Chinese business a year earlier to China’s Yashili international holdings, now the Vietnam business is being closed down due to strong sales declines as well.

While the Fonterra milk crisis is mentioned as one of the key reasons behind the brand’s spectacular decline, another perhaps more destructive factor can be found in the way the brand’s visual equity assets have been managed in recent years, creating a strong disconnect with the Vietnamese consumer that turned them off in the first place.

A bit of Background on Dumex in Vietnam

For those who have been following what happened in the Vietnamese market, the above picture shows the revolutionary visual changes the brand underwent in a mere 8-10 year history in the Vietnam market. On the left, an image of what the brand looked like in 2005 and on the right what it looked like most recently, in between all the changes that were made respectively in the correct sequence.

The first thing us packaging people will notice is the many dramatic visual changes the pack has undergone in what we would consider a relatively short time frame. Where most brands make use of a 2-3 year packaging cycle (meaning big packaging design changes only happen every 2-3 years) Danone has made changes more frequently sometimes only allowing a year and half for consumers to get used to a new look, before making very significant changes yet again.

The key visual elements that typically make up a “growing up milk” brand are (1) Brand Logo, (2) Brand Color, (3) a visual depicting a Nutrition Engine, explaining the main product benefits and “reasons to believe” and (4) an age indicator to help shoppers figure out which product are most suited for their child. The rest is merely clutter to most of us, however for those managing baby food brands this clutter often consists of some “very essential” communication elements that are researched endlessly and ultimately all need to occupy the front panel of a pack, adding clutter and confusion for actual consumers.

So, which big Packaging Design Mistakes did Dumex in Vietnam make?

When looking at the above line-up, 2 mayor packaging design mistakes preceded the Fonterra crisis and the Vietnam price ceiling issues, which were probably more destructive than both of these market issues combined together.

  1. RECKLESS CHANGES OF BRAND COLOR – whoever has worked on packaging design in Asia will understand the importance of the color gold. Although very literal, many consumers love gold – as it conveys premium-ness, as it is aspirational and as it represents quality and credibility. When Dumex changed its cute pastel colored packs (the left design in the above photo) to a pack with a lot of gold on it (second design from the lift) the brand really took off. In an unfortunate attempt to standardize the look of the brand globally the decision was made to change the brand color to blue in all countries (see the design in the middle). The result? A complete disaster for the Vietnam business and a big decline in sales, which the brand never really recovered from. Admitting mistake is difficult, but the brand attempted to correct the issue (with the design second from the right) by relaunching and bringing the color gold back but it was too late, the damage was done.
  2. CONFUSED BRANDING EXECUTIONS – branding is typically very confusing on any baby care brand. Legal restrictions on advertising of baby food products that compete with breast feeding dictate that different branding treatments are used to allow legal registration of products. This results in a mesh of additional layers and meaningless subbrand names or descriptors that are added to the packs. In most cases your master brand would visually lead and remain consistent (Dumex in this case) and whatever legal subbrand needed would be made as small and invisible as possible and as legally required (Dugro in this example). When we look however at what Dumex did, we see that when the brand adopted the global design (design #3 in above photo) it almost completely removed the Dumex brand mark from its packs, instead hero-ing a rather meaningless Dugro descriptor. A big catastrophe called “brand alienation” occurred, which, combined with the fact that the brand underwent a major redesign, resulted in massive brand switching as loyal Dumex buyers could not find their brand on the shelf anymore or thought it was a copy-cat. Again, we see Dumex trying to do a 360 afterwards and bring the Dumex brand back in much bigger form following “post-blue” relaunches (design #4 and #5) but again it was too late and the damage was done.

So, what important lesson should marketeers and brand managers draw from this?

Treat your visual brand equity assets with great care!

Get your executions right early on, research them in the context of the competitive shelf environment ideally through eye-tracking studies and prioritize your key visual elements based on the shopper’s purchase decision process, not based on whatever internal harmonization efforts or cost-cutting efforts are taking place.

Sure, it’s nice to have a global brand with a consistent look, but if your brand relaunches are done without proper transitions or completely disregards local market preferences bad things could happen.

Is a consistent “global brand”-look more important than maximizing the commercial opportunities for your brand in local markets? Looking at how the Dumex brand came to its end, our answer is a decisive no!

for some further thoughts on how to successfully take a brand global, see this article here with 6 tips for success.

More articles